Most baseball fans are familiar with how Tampa Bay Rays closer Fernando Rodney went and set the gold standard for a comeback season by a major league reliever in 2012, but what’s perhaps gone a little bit under the radar was how he got there in the first place.
See, if it weren’t for Kyle Farnsworth‘s elbow troubles that caused him to miss 77 games last year, the whole Rodney thing might not even have happened. That’s because in the year before, it was Farnsworth who set his own standard for a bounce-back campaign, stealing the closer’s job in Tampa Bay from young guns like Jake McGee when not very many people thought he would be anything more than a replacement-level reliever.
Until 2011, that’s exactly what Farnsworth had been for much of his career; but something clicked when he arrived in Tampa, and the veteran turned in a 57.2 inning season with a career-best 2.18 ERA and 0.99 WHIP, taking home 25 saves as one of the league’s premier relievers. It was a far cry from the inconsistent hard-thrower who had a 4.24/1.36 ERA/WHIP in his 14-year career prior.
Just like it did for Rodney, something about the Rays brought out the best in Farnsworth, and it’s for that reason that the two will hook up again in 2013, as the team and player agreed to a one-year deal worth $1.3 million dollars, with incentives that could double the amount.
The details of the incentives are not known, but one would imagine that they will have to do with the number of innings that Farnsworth will pitch next season. The 36-year old did return from his elbow injury last season, but his effectiveness was significantly diminished, as the average velocity of his fastball dropped to a career-low 93.2 mph, and he walked batters at a 4.67 BB/9 clip – the second highest of his career.
That would make Farnsworth…well, a pre-2011 version of himself, but the Rays are willing to chalk the 27 so-so innings from last season up to the fact that he was recovering from injury. It’s worth noting that Farnsworth was still about to hold his opponents to a .210 BAA, so it’s not as though batters were able to tee off on him much better than they did in 2011.
If he can give than Rays an encore to what he did then in 2013, the once-unfathomable thought of a one-two punch of Rodney and Farnsworth being a near-elite bullpen combo (even if McGee might be better than both already) in the bigs soon may be a reality.